October 19, 2021

F.B.I Treating San Bernardino Attack as Counterterrorism Investigation

Former FBI Terrorism Task Force member afirms this was a terrorist attack, see video.
F.B.I Treating San Bernardino Attack as Counterterrorism Investigation

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — The F.B.I. is treating its inquiry into the massacre here as a counter-terrorism investigation, two law enforcement officials said Thursday, based on materials the suspects stockpiled — including explosives — their Middle East travels and evidence that one of them had been in touch with people with Islamist extremist views, both in the United States and abroad.

The suspects, a married couple identified as Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, are believed to have opened fire inside a social services center on Wednesday, killing 14 people and injuring 21 others, in the nation’s deadliest mass shooting since the assault on an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., nearly three years ago. The suspects died hours later in a shootout with the police on a residential street.

Syed-Farook-2Law enforcement officials said Thursday that the couple had thousands of rounds of ammunition in their home as well as 12 pipe bombs. “We do not yet know the motive,” David Bowdich, the assistant director of the F.B.I. office in Los Angeles, said in a news conference.

While Mr. Farook is an American citizen, Mr. Bowdich said he had traveled abroad and that the couple came to the United States in July 2014 when they were not yet married. She is here on a K-1 visa on a Pakistani passport. Mr. Bowdich said he did not know all of the countries they visited but that Mr. Farook did go to Pakistan at one point.

Asked whether there were contacts with possible terrorist suspects, he said “We are still working through that.” Authorities added that there was certain level of sophistication in the explosive devices.

Law enforcement officials said the F.B.I. had uncovered evidence that Mr. Farook was in contact over several years with extremists domestically and abroad, including at least one person in the United States who was investigated for suspected terrorism by federal authorities in recent years. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

Officials said they were unclear what set off the attack, given that the target was a group of Mr. Farook’s co-workers with the county health department. They say it may have also involved grievances against them.

“You don’t take your wife to a workplace shooting, and especially not as prepared as they were,” said a senior law enforcement official briefed on the investigation. “He could have been radicalized, ready to go with some type of attack, and then had a dispute at work and decided to do something.”

Two other senior United States security officials said that F.B.I. counter-terrorism officials were overseeing the investigation because of the possibility that it might be terrorism, not because they had concluded that it was.

The officials called the case perplexing, saying that no clear evidence of terrorism had emerged and that there were some signs pointing away from it. But they said the shooting was clearly premeditated, and does not fit the mold for typical workplace violence incidents. The idea that this was a workplace argument that spiraled out of control seems far-fetched now, the officials said, given the explosives and the preparation. An overnight review of Mr. Farook’s electronic devices has not provided clear answers to these questions, but the officials noted that the investigation is in its early phases.

The F.B.I. has investigated thousands of Muslims for their potential ties to terrorists in the years since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, many of whom were never linked to any crimes. But details about Mr. Farook that have emerged, including the equipment the attackers had that indicating a preparedness to commit violence on a large scale, has prompted investigators to look deeper into whether he had connections to militants or extremist ideology.

The attackers arrived at Inland Regional Center, at 11 a.m. Wednesday, armed with .223-caliber assault rifles, semiautomatic handguns, and explosives that they left behind but that did not detonate, law enforcement officials have said, and witnesses have said they wore masks and body armor.

The suspicion of terrorism appears to focus the hunt for a motive in the blood bath. Meanwhile federal agents traced the origins of the four guns recovered from the suspects, all of them bought legally, and officers combed through a sprawling set of crime scenes for evidence.

President Obama said in an Oval Office statement Thursday morning that it was possible that the attacks in San Bernardino were terrorist-related, but he said it was also possible they were work-related. At this stage, he said, law enforcement still does not know why this “terrible event occurred.” He said the F.B.I. was investigating.

Two of the people wounded in the attack remained in critical condition Thursday morning and three others were listed in fair condition at Loma Linda University Medical Center, Kerry Heinrich, the chief executive of the hospital, said. “All of the patients are gunshot wound victims,” he said, declining to give more detail.

Coroner’s teams were still working at Inland Regional on Thursday, and law enforcement officials said some of the bodies of victims remained there.

Two of the guns recovered were bought by one of the suspects killed in the shootout, and the other two were bought by a third person who is not considered a suspect, said a senior federal law enforcement official, who was spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We believe all four were purchased legally, but are still taking a close look at the two firearms bought by the” person who is not a suspect, the official said.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed that it had traced all four guns, and that two were purchased legally by someone linked to the investigation. But neither the senior official nor the bureau would identify either buyer by name, nor say which two weapons were bought by a suspect, or where they were bought.

Officials said the two assault rifles were variants of the AR-15, the semiautomatic version of the military M-16 rifle; one was made by DPMS Panther Arms, and the other was a Smith & Wesson M&P model, a designation meaning military and police. The senior law enforcement official said one handgun was made by Llama, and the other by Smith and Wesson.

California is among a handful of states that ban the sale or possession of many assault weapons, including the most common models, but there are exceptions in the law, and it is not clear whether the suspects’ guns were prohibited. It was not known where and how the suspects obtained their weapons, which might have been sold originally in other states, and might have gone through multiple owners. Overall, California has the strictest gun laws in the nation, according to the most recent report card by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Mr. Farook had been at a holiday party at the center for the county health department, where he worked as an environmental inspector. He soon left in anger after a dispute of some sort, Chief Jarrod Burguan of the San Bernardino Police Department said, only to return alongside Ms. Malik. Hours later, the couple were killed during the shootout.

Through the night, investigators scoured at least three sites looking for clues: the scene of the shooting at the Inland Regional Center, a sprawling facility that provides services for thousands of people with disabilities where the holiday party was held; the site about two miles away where the couple died in a shootout; and a townhouse in nearby Redlands.

Officers used a crane to break through windows and the door at the small townhouse and set off controlled explosions inside the home, fearing the suspects could have left explosives behind. Bomb squads had also disposed of explosives the suspects left behind them at the regional center.

By Thursday, none of the victims of the attack had been publicly identified.

Most of the carnage unfolded in a single room of the Inland Regional Center, the police said, which was filled with people with whom Mr. Farook had a personal connection. While shots rang out, others in the building cowered and hid, sending text messages or making frantic calls.

As the suspects fled in a black sport utility vehicle, large parts of the city were paralyzed. Residents were told to remain indoors, and government buildings, stores, offices and at least one school were either closed or put on lockdown. Yellow school buses filled with survivors of the shooting were escorted by police vans to meet anxious relatives at a church.

Late Wednesday afternoon, dozens of heavily armed police officers in tactical gear descended on a residential neighborhood in pursuit of the attackers. Witnesses described a wild scene as dozens of officers closed in on a vehicle, with hundreds of shots fired as the people in the vehicle fought the police.

Chief Burguan said there were at least 20 officers involved in the gun battle.

The chief said that a third person had fled the scene and been taken into custody, but that the police did not know his role, if any. A police officer was wounded in the shootout and was being treated at a hospital for injuries that were not life-threatening.

Loma Linda, the only Level One trauma center in the region, had been prepared for far more casualties, and put out an all-hands call for “all trauma surgeons, all nursing staff, all support staff” to report to the hospital, Mr. Heinrich said. A bomb threat against the hospital, apparently unfounded, complicated its work, and led to heavily armed equipped police tactical units searching the center room by room.

“Our staff have trained, have prepared, but there’s nothing you can do, really, to prepare for an event like yesterday, with the emotional trauma that comes with that,” Mr. Heinrich said.

In a year repeatedly marked by such massacres, San Bernardino joined a tragic roster that includes Charleston, S.C.; Roseburg, Ore.; and Colorado Springs, where just five days earlier a gunman killed three people and wounded nine at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

President Obama once again called for better background checks and new restrictions on access to guns.

“We should come together in a bipartisan basis at every level of government to make these rare as opposed to normal,” he said on CBS News. He said: “The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world. And there’s some steps we could take, not to eliminate every one of these mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently.”

Source: NY Times / Fox News